RP IMPORTS RISE 12.2% IN MAY, TRADE DEFICIT SURGES

MANILA, July 18, 2003  (AFP) - Philippine merchandise trade imports rose 12.2 percent from a year earlier to US$3.305 billion in May, indicating renewed economic activity, officials and analysts said Friday.

The May figure was a reversal of the 7.6 percent drop in imports to US$3.186 billion in April, the National Statistics Office said in a statement.

This pushed the Philippine trade deficit 18-fold to US$503 million in May alone compared with the US$28 million deficit in the same month last year.

The total trade deficit for the first five months of 2003 amounted to US$1.641 billion compared to a deficit of 99 million dollars last year.

The NSO also said that imports from January to May rose 12.8 percent over last year to US$15.649 dollars.

The rise in merchandise imports in May after the decline in April suggests that economic activity has begun to pick up, said David Cohen, chief macroeconomic forecaster of SP/MMS International research agency.

It boosts expectations of an economic rebound in the second half of 2003 following an expectedly weak second quarter, he said.

"The numbers are reasonably encouraging, suggesting a pick-up in economic activity. (The rise) is in line with increased global trade after the SARS outbreak was contained and the US-Iraq war ended," Cohen said.

The government has expressed confidence the country's economy will expand between 4.2 and 5.2 percent this year, after 4.4 percent in 2002.

Electronic products, used as inputs for the country's electronics export industry, were the country's biggest import item, accounting for 46.2 percent of all imports in May.

Electronic imports hit US$1.526 billion in May, an 8.9 percent increase compared to the same period last year, the statistics office said.

Mineral fuels, lubricants and related materials were the second largest category, accounting for US$400.79 dollars or 12.1 percent of total imports in May.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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